What Exactly is an Elopement?

If you asked my parents or my grandparents, what an elopement is, they would start speaking in hushed voices, shake their heads and talk about how an elopement is when people get married without their parents knowing. And I actually did this, and that is exactly what they did!

And that is what the old-fashioned meaning of an elopement is. To run off, without telling your parents or family, and get married in secrecy and shame. There is a real negative association with it.

Even major online sources describe it that way. The Merriam-Webster website says the earliest meaning of the word was to “escape” or “flee”. That definition of elopement later became: “To run away secretly with the intention of getting married usually without parental consent”

Wikipedia, it refers to elopements as “a marriage conducted in a sudden or secretive fashion… involving a hurried flight away… to run away and to not come back…”

Historically speaking, yes, this is what it meant to elope. The word comes from the Anglo-French ‘aloper‘, which means “to abduct, run away.”


The meaning of ‘an elopement’ is changing. Our definition of an elopement is:

“An elopement is to get married with a small number of guests, in a beautiful location, where the ceremony and the day is all about the two of you.”


READ MORE: Reasons Why You Should Elope

Rohit Jhawar Photography
Photo by Rohit Jhawar Photography

The modern meaning of elopement.

The modern meaning of an elopement these days is changing. No longer is it meant in a negative fashion. It does not mean that all couples run off without telling anyone. It does not mean that your parents don’t know that you are getting married. And it does not mean that it is just the two of you getting married without anyone else there.

It is something couples seek out to do. It is

Eloping now simply means to get married without any guests or just with a very limited amount of guests.

The term is more often being used to describe a destination wedding, pop up wedding, micro wedding, tiny wedding, small wedding or an intimate wedding. They all can basically mean the same thing.

Goosewing Cottage elopement
Goosewing Cottage

How many guests can be at elopements?

How many guests is up for debate depending on who you ask. There are no rules about how many guests there can be before it turns into a wedding. As an elopement can also be considered a small intimate wedding. But for us, it generally means that you have less than 20 guests. So anywhere from zero to twenty guests is what we consider an elopement.

An elopement is:

  • all about the two of you.
  • freedom to be who you are without stress or anxiety.
  • a personal and emotional commitment to each other.
  • an exciting journey and experience.

An elopement is not:

  • a secret and shameful event.
  • getting married without parents knowledge.
  • getting married without any guests.
  • a last-minute or spur of the moment decision.
  • a destination wedding with a hundred guests.

An Elopement or an Intimate Wedding?

What is my wedding, an elopement or an intimate wedding? In actual fact, the definition doesn’t really matter. And the line can get a bit blurred here.

For us, an elopement is a wedding with between 2 and 20 guests. Yes, you actually need two guests at any Australian wedding for the wedding to be legal. And an intimate wedding is a wedding with less than 50 guests.

We do love intimate weddings as well. Because the couple has intentionally reduced their guest’s numbers and only included only those people who are most important to them. Some people have large families and love their family. So it is only natural to include them.

Pauline Fawkner Marriage Celebrant
Pauline Fawkner Marriage Celebrant

So I hope we have helped dispell some of the myths surrounding ‘elopements’ and what they actually mean. Feel free to send this page to any parents or grandparents if you are eloping to help explain and educate. And I thoroughly encourage you to elope if you don’t want a traditional big wedding, but you want to get married. It is the best way to commit your lives to each other without the stress and the fanfare.